Stung by Media Backlash, Washington Wizard Guard Gilbert Arenas Shuts Up and Plays

For Gilbert Arenas, the task is simple:
For Gilbert Arenas, the task is simple: "You just play basketball and don't worry about entertaining off the court anymore." (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By Mike Wise
Saturday, October 17, 2009

One of the most telling stories from Gilbert Arenas's mischievous youth featured his father, the only parent who cared for him growing up. Gilbert Sr., the original Gil the Thrill, tried to compete against his son in Tecmo Bowl, a relic of a video game by today's Madden NFL 10 standards.

"He didn't really know how to play," Arenas said.

So of course, his son showed him all he needed to know -- to lose.

After about 10 blitzes in a row, after a confounded, angry father learned his giggling son had tricked him, Gil Sr. punched little Gil in the arm. Hard.

"Gil ran into the bathroom," his father said when he first told me the story three years ago. "I yelled: 'Gil, you quit, you lose! Gil, you quit, you lose!' He never came out."

That was almost 20 years ago. Senior and Junior have yet to sit side by side to play another video game.

Then and now, it's all fun and games for Gilbert Arenas until someone gets hurt.

Or until an open, authentic player, embraced by Washington when he came to town six years ago almost as much as he embraced the city and its forever-suffering pro basketball fans, suddenly felt like the candor he freely showed was being thrown in his face.

Until the guy who displayed more keyboard courage than any elite athlete of his generation -- who, frankly, ushered in the interactive age of a superstar communing with his adoring public -- began to regret giving so much of himself when his honesty started to be turned against him.

You want to know why Gilbert Arenas isn't saying anything of real substance lately, why the NBA just fined him and his team $25,000 apiece because the Wizards' best player wasn't talking at all? (I know fans could not care less whether athletes talk to the media. Fine. But when Mr. Microphone goes underground, it's a big deal, okay?) You want to know why he gave what he called his last full-length, one-on-one interview all season during media day on a radio show I host more than two weeks ago? You want to know why he gave a very surly, un-Gilbert-like, Q & Arenas for 10 minutes after Friday's practice? That's easy.

Because the same people who kept encouraging him to obliterate the boundaries of public speech and thought -- mutter wild musings into a recorder, type the offbeat and borderline disturbing posts on the blog he used to author -- are the same hypocrites now tired of his act.

Look, he doesn't get a pass for some of his most potent barbs, including one reported last month in the Washington Times regarding Arenas's claim that the Wizards mishandled his rehabilitation.

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